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Work-site injuries aren’t as numerous as in the past

The likelihood of a construction worker being injured on the job is significantly lower than ten years ago.

That’s not by accident.

 So says Rachel Rutland, director of safety and health for Associated General Contractors of Mississippi.

“I think it’s all about training and more awareness by the industry,” she said.  “Training in itself has helped us lower the (injury) incident rate.  I know the amount of claims that come across my desk has dramatically changed.  If I get four or five a week (statewide), that’s a big number.”     

According to an analysis of federal safety data released in August, the national construction fatality rate declined 47 percent and recordable safety incidents dropped 38 percent since the federal government switched to a safety oversight approach in 1998.

Known as “collaborative safety,” it represents a significant shift in federal safety oversight when it was first introduced over a decade ago.

“We’ve had a significant reduction in the injury rate in the past decade,” said Clyde Payne, area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Jackson office.  “There is a lot better understanding about hazards and issues in the workplace and that’s had a great affect.”

Dorinda Rose, area director for Baton Rouge’s OSHA office, calls the collaboration “one more method and opportunity to touch people and, hopefully, save lives.  We are able to tear down barriers and the fear factor.  People feel we are approachable.”

The Associated General Contractors of Mississippi and the Jackson area OSHA office established a collaborative relationship about four years ago, Rutland said.  It provides AGC members with information, guidance and access to training resources to help protect employees’ safety and health.  

Rutland said the alliance agreement established with OSHA has paid dividends for the AGC of Mississippi membership and the state’s construction industry.

“Originally, it was geared to work zones involving road construction but it’s since been extended to all types of work,” she said.  “The alliance with OSHA has helped us a lot – Clyde Payne and his staff have been very pro-active in working with our members and, in a lot of cases, they’ve been willing to negotiate fines down in exchange for more training.” 

After issuing a citation, Payne says the federal agency is more than willing to work with the offending contractor.

“If they’ve corrected the violation, we’ll often offer penalty reduction,” he said.  “OSHA does have some flexibility with the penalty level, and in turn, we have them do some extra training.”

The federal safety report stated that there were 1.7 fatalities for every billion dollars invested in construction nationally in 1998, while today that rate is 0.9 fatalities, a 47 percent drop.  Relative to the size of the construction workforce, the fatality rate dropped from 12.9 in 2000 to 9.6 fatalities per 100,000 construction workers in 2008, a 25 percent decline.     

The report also cited that while the value and size of the construction market grew significantly, the number of construction fatalities declined from 1,171 in 1998 to 969 in 2008, a 17 percent drop.  In addition, the construction safety incidence rate fell 38 percent from 8.8 per 100 workers to just 5.4 per 100 workers.  

Incidences of injured construction personnel missing work declined 42 percent between 1998 and 2007.

 OSHA also implements an on-site consultation service that offers free advice to small and medium-sized businesses, with priority given to high-hazard worksites.  Construction companies and other businesses can find out about potential hazards at their worksites, improve their occupational safety and health management systems and even qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections.

Rutland said that although the agreement between the AGC and OSHA has been extremely positive, she’s more pleased that Mississippi construction workers are able to work safer while remaining productive.

“I’ve read about large construction projects in the early 1900s that would actually calculate the percentage of people that would die during the course of the project,” she said.  “Thankfully, those days are over in the construction industry.”

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